Beam falls cost Florida SEC title
For three rotations during Saturday's second session of the SEC Gymnastics Championships, Florida's two-time defending national champion squad was about as good as it could be.
On the vault, uneven bars, and floor, Florida posted scores of 49.575 or better — scores that would have propelled the Gators to a titanic score of better than 198.200, and an easy SEC title, had the fourth apparatus produced a number as strong. Bridget Sloan posted her second straight 10.0 on the uneven bars (and the first 10.0 on the bars in SEC Championships history) to cap Florida's second rotation, and the Gators seemed to be on the verge of a runaway win.
But Florida's dreams were dashed where so many are in college gymnastics: On the balance beam. Freshmen Ericha Fassbender and Alex McMurtry both fell off the apparatus during their routines, recording scores of 9.275 and 9.300 respectively, and senior Kytra Hunter needed a balance check that docked her enough to leave her with a 9.600. Though the Gators' other three performers scored at least 9.875 on the beam, with Sloan's 9.950 winning her the SEC beam title, Florida was forced to count both a fall and Hunter's wobbly routine, and scored a 48.625 on the beam — the lowest of any team on any apparatus in the SEC Championship' second session, featuring Alabama, Auburn, and LSU, three other teams in the national top six.
That score killed any chances of Florida unseating Alabama as the SEC champions, and the Tide rolled to their second straight title with steady execution, finishing with a 197.525 that beat out LSU's 197.450 and the Gators' 197.400 for the conference crown. It was Florida's first finish outside the top two at the SEC Championships since 2009 — the last year in which Florida recorded more than two losses through the SEC championships, and more than seven in all competitions.
Through this year's SEC Championships, Florida is "just" 12-5.
But don't give up hope of a three-peat: We'll have much more on Florida gymnastics tomorrow.
Softball nearly hands Alabama first home sweep in 11 years
If you, like me, only caught the last game of Florida's Women's College World Series championship series rematch with Alabama on Monday night, you might get the sense that the Crimson Tide erupting for five runs from the bottom of the fifth onward to win the third game of a series it had already lost was the storyline of the weekend.
If you were paying attention prior to that, you might have caught Florida righting its ship — after getting mashed in its first SEC series by big-swinging LSU — by allowing just one unearned run over the first 18 innings of the series, and setting up to become the first team to take a series from the Tide in Tuscaloosa since 2004.
Alas, that didn't come to pass, as Alabama broke through in that fifth inning of a rare Monday double-header — a planned Sunday game had to be moved to Saturday, then resumed on Monday, because of torrential rain — to claim a 5-1 win after Florida's 1-0 and 4-1 wins in the first two games of the series. Still, Florida recorded the first shutout win in Tuscaloosa by a visitor since 2013, and ran a winning streak against the Tide to five games over three years, including the two victories that sealed the Gators' first national title last June.
After two weeks of SEC play, Florida's seen arguably the top two teams in the SEC other than the Gators — and is 3-3. From here on in, the going should be less rough.
Women's swimming places ninth at NCAA Championships
Florida's women's swimming team wasn't expected to contend for a national title over the weekend at the NCAA Championships, and its ninth place finish was sort of par for the course for a program that has consistently been exceptional, but never quite on the level of true championship contenders, under Gregg Troy.
Florida garnered 15 All-American honors at the meet, with Jess Thielmann taking four and Natalie Hinds snagging three, along with a new, lower school record in the 100-meter freestyle; both swimmers took third-place finishes in their best events. (Hinds had already owned the school record in the 100 free, and came third to a new American record swim in the event; Thielmann was third in the 1,650-yard freestyle, which you may know as the mile swim.) Kahlia Warner became just the second diver in school history to be an All-American on the one-meter platform, and
Cal won the national title going away, with only Georgia within 100 points of the Golden Bears. And while Cal, Georgia, Stanford, and other titans of the sport will have plenty of talent going forward — and always do, because despite losing athletes like Missy Franklin and Allison Schmitt, those programs always have talent — Florida can take this fact that GatorZone closed its recap with and sleep on it:
Florida will return its entire NCAA Championship squad next season.
After coming to the NCAA Championships with no seniors, Florida could have as many as 11 donning their caps for the last time next year.
Baseball drops first SEC road series
Florida's baseball team had risen as high as No. 1 in some national rankings after a blistering start to the 2015 season, and seemed to be staying hot last week by hammering Florida State in a midweek game.
Then came a road trip to Oxford.
Florida faltered early and often against the Rebels over the weekend, dropping Friday night's opener, 4-1, and the first game of Saturday's doubleheader, 5-2. Florida trailed 2-0 and 3-0 after the first innings of those first two games, with Logan Shore and A.J. Puk each struggling with command, and would trail 5-0 in the second game before Puk was lifted. Those deficits were largely fatal because of an inability to get on base on Friday (when Florida had three hits and one walk), and an inability to drive in runs on Saturday (when Florida left 12 men on base).
The Gators' fortunes changed Saturday night, as they racked up 12 hits and another six walks, cruising to a 5-0 lead after three innings and an 8-5 victory. Dane Dunning allowed one run in 4.1 innings of work, but the night's star on the mound was Bobby Poyner, who punched out six of the 10 batters he retired, earning the victory.
Poyner's 28 strikeouts on the year are second only to Puk's 33, and his ERA is nearly two full points lower, at 2.73 to Puk's 4.72, despite seven of his eight appearances coming in higher-leverage relief situations, while Puk has made six starts. There's no glaring need to change up the Florida rotation right now, but with Shore dipping from his best form and Puk's command continuing to be an issue, Poyner at least represents another arm in Kevin O'Sullivan's overstocked arsenal that could be brought to bear in a start.